Archbold Village Council directed Donna Dettling, village administrator, to develop a contract that would extend the current fire service agreement between council and the German Township Trustees.
Council spent about 45 minutes of its Monday, Nov. 6 meeting discussing the status of the Archbold Fire Department.
Council and Jeff Fryman, mayor, discussed a range of options, from a contract extension of 60 to 90 days, to turning total responsibility for the German Township- Archbold Fire Department over to the trustees.
Fryman expressed frustration with the trustees when they voted during a Monday, Oct. 30 meeting to withdraw a proposed two-mill levy off the Nov. 7 general election ballot.
Under an agreement in place for decades, German Township agrees to pay for and maintain fire equipment, from firefighter helmets to fire trucks.
The village agrees to pay the salaries of the firefighters, and own and maintain the fire station.
After the village attempted to separate from the township, council decided the village should own the fire equipment, as well. After 18 months of negotiations, the issue has not been resolved.
During the negotiations, council discovered village residents were paying more for fire protection services than those who live outside the village but within German Township.
A two-mill property tax levy was proposed, with rollbacks from the trustees and council to even out the payments.
Kenny Cowell, a councilman, said Bruce Lauber, incumbent trustee up for reelection, told the crowd at the Oct. 12 Meet the Candidates Night, sponsored by this newspaper and the Archbold Area Chamber of Commerce, that he was essentially okay with village residents paying double for fire protection.
(Editor’s Note: Archbold Buckeye staff reviewed recordings from Meet the Candidates Night and could not find any point where Lauber said he approved of village residents paying twice as much for fire protection as non-village residents.)
“When they voted to take the two-mill levy off the ballots, they said they were okay with” township property owners outside the village paying less than residents inside the village, Fryman said.
“’If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Kevin Morton said, quoting Randy Ruffer, a trustee.
“Yet my neighbors are asking me why they have to pay double,” Fryman said.
“Yet we’re the ones that are dividing the community,” Morton said.
Cowell said of the talks with the trustees, “This is going nowhere. If you truly want your own fire department, you’re going to have to step up and buy your own equipment.
“I hate that, but if the goal is our own department, that’s what we’ll have to do.”
Fryman said he tried to explain the unequal payment situation to the trustees.
“If it makes sense to six members of council, the former fire chief, legal counsel, and some county commissioners, but I can’t get these three guys– I’m at my wit’s end,” Fryman said.
Fryman said in one meeting, he felt he had successfully explained the situation to one trustee, and that trustee has asked him to explain it to the others.
Then “24 hours later, they didn’t want to talk to us,” Fryman said.
“The two-mill levy was the one thing we all agreed on,” Fryman said.
Kevin Eicher, a councilman, said he believes the trustees do not want to move forward with negotiations.
“They know where the cash cow is. Why change?” he said.
“Yet they’ve told people in the community that we’re the bad people. We’re not,” Eicher said.
The idea of turning total responsibility for the fire department over to the township came up.
“That same argument is being made around the county,” Fryman said.
“Delta just put their fire service contract on the back of their township. They said, ‘We’re out of the fire business.’
“We could turn it over and say, ‘you’re responsible now.’ But we’ve always felt the need to continue the same service,” Fryman said.
Fryman said he didn’t want to break up the fire department, but Morton said fire equipment does not make the department.
“Equipment doesn’t tear apart the department. The equipment doesn’t matter, it’s the people (firefighters) who matter,” he said.
Fryman suggested the village should prepare a contract extension.
Then the village should invoice the township for fire protection services currently paid by the village.
“Then they (the trustees) say ‘Nope.’ What is our response?” Fryman asked.
“Then it’s their responsibility,” Cowell said. “Let’s hand it over to them. If you don’t want us to do it, then you do it.”
Morton objected, saying if council did that, it would hand over the village employees– the firefighters.
“That’s the corner they’re painting us into,” Fryman said.
“I would rather buy fire equipment 10 times than hand over the employees to the township,” Morton said.
Bob Bohmer, village solicitor, said if the trustees provide any fire service to any portion of the township, they must provide fire service to all of the township, including the village of Archbold.
But even if the trustees collect property tax levies to fund fire protection, they are not required to provide the service.
“If we say ‘fine, it’s yours,’ what if they say ‘we don’t want to provide fire protection?’” Fryman asked.
“Dumber ideas have come up!
“I’m telling you, this is a true possibility. You know when we’ve been at this whole discussion for 18 months, it’s not out of the realm of possibility!”
Eicher said after Election Day, the whole issue may be seen in a new light.
“After tomorrow night, we’ll know who the new council members are and who are the trustees,” he said.
“If it’s the same three (township trustees), this is not going anywhere.
“If any one of the faces change, then we can be hopeful again.”
Brian Huffman, a councilman, was absent.
Before winning the presidential election in 1860, Abraham Lincoln had lost eight elections for various offices.